Rwanda has defied the African solidarity, voting in favour of a historic UN resolution that guarantees protection for individuals and groups involved in human rights campaign.
In what the world believed was Africa’s opportunity to influence a global direction in favour of humanity, Rwanda broke ranks with the African bloc and voted Yes.
The manuscript of the resolution has been under discussion for the past 16 years, and when it was finally tabled at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday to be voted for or against, China and Russia led a spirited campaign against it.
The resolution was advanced by Norway, with the help from 150 NGOs and global personalities.
Fourteen (14) countries voted against the resolution, whereas 40 abstained. Most of the countries which voted against or abstained came from the so called “The Africa Group”. Tanzania did not take part in the vote.
In the East African region, only Rwanda voted in favour of the resolution. Kenya and Burundi voted “NO”. Uganda abstained from backing the text, despite having deployed troops in conflict zones.
In total, 114 countries took part in the painstaking negotiations and had to vote as well. Nearly all Western democracies voted in favour of the resolution.
“We are…extremely disappointed that 14 countries voted against the text and that a further 40 States took the cowardly position of abstaining, “said Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said.
“We agree with the Norwegian sponsors of the text who stated that both votes against the resolution and abstentions amount to a failure to recognise the important role of defenders and the need for their protection.”
According to campaigners, the resolution sets out important and substantive provisions, including the vital role of advocacy and contribution of human rights defenders to sustainable development and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights.
The resolution also clearly sets the responsibilities of business enterprises with respect to engaging, consulting and protecting defenders.
In addition to China and Russia, countries which opposed the resolution included Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, and Myanmar.
“The votes of South Africa and Myanmar are a complete betrayal of the many brave human rights defenders who have played such a vital role in the transitions in those States,” said Sinclair.
According to ISHR, several aspects of the resolution were fiercely debated during negotiations, with the African Group tabling a record 39 hostile amendments to the text in the days leading up to its adoption.
Those amendments sought to remove references to the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, and delete or weaken language regarding the need for their protection.
The amendments also sought to delete whole paragraphs related to the need to combat impunity for violations and abuses against defenders and the need to ensure adequate procedural safeguards in judicial proceedings.
Despite the changes, Norway and Non Governmental Organisations have accepted the adoption of the UN General Assembly Resolution on Human Rights Defenders.
For Rwanda, protection of human rights defenders and vulnerable societies must be the duty of the international community.